Outlandia – Glen Nevis

London Fieldworks’ Outlandia project has been shortlisted for The Architects’ Journal Small Projects 2011.

By Malcolm Fraser (Malcolm Fraser Architects)
October 2010

The Project Brief was nice and loose: an artists’ fieldstation in Glen Nevis, to allow and encourage creative interaction between artists and the land, its history and people.
The site was even looser: somewhere in Glen Nevis.  Where, exactly, grew out of a complex negotiation with partners, landowners and the local authorities, which brought to the surface some interesting tensions – a portion of the climbing fraternity, for instance, believes that hills should be for serious craggies only, and that artists should be kept away.  On the ground, the choice of site grew out of long crawls through wet undergrowth and up wooded slopes, in clouds of midges and carpets of pine needles, in search of natural and human drama.
The site chosen is full of it.  Sitting half-way up the opposite side of the Glen to Ben Nevis, a visitor approaches Outlandia through the path we cut through the dense woods behind, descending out the musty dark of the trees into a big view which, from dark-to-light and framed by old, tall larches, opens-up across the Glen to the shoulder of the Ben.  The view of great nature dazzles, but we soon start to see the multiplicity of human interaction with it:  the routes threading across the view, from the main road and West Highland Way along the foot of the Glen to the tourist route up the Ben, with its strings of tiny bobbling hats working their way up the hill;  the car parks, caravan parks and visitor centre, places of the modern tourist trade;  the old mills and older burial mounds, traces of more ancient usage; and the great industrial aluminium smelter across the Glen and the hydro that powers it.
Nothing could be further from the idea of the Highlands as “unspoilt wilderness”.  We have long been part of this landscape, and it seems unlikely that any artists making work for, from or around Outlandia would fail to enjoy and illuminate the tensions around nature, industry, tourism and heritage.
The building itself sits out from a 45 degree slope:  a treehouse, part-built out the trees cut down to form the site, entered across a bridge from the slope behind;  a simple box, leaning-out into the view with big windows opening-up to it.  Part of the building of it was a low-impact, eco-friendly use of material recovered from the site;  part the opposite, high-impact and hairy landings of concrete, for the foundations, from a helicopter.  Construction was part-joinery, part-forestry and part-mountain rescue, with a local contractor who nicely combined all three, and an unusual set of Risk Assessments.

London Fieldworks commissioned Outlandia and are curating the work in and around it.


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